Israel’s largest law firm reflects on 50 years of change

“I spoke Hebrew at home, but did not have great Hebrew, and then he made me an offer. The magic word was it was in dollars. I focused on ‘dollars’ and didn’t hear the number,” said a partner.

 View of office and apartment highrise buildings in central Tel Aviv, on November 27, 2017 (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
View of office and apartment highrise buildings in central Tel Aviv, on November 27, 2017
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)

Gil White, a managing partner at law firm Herzog Fox & Neeman, was born in Israel, but mainly grew up in England, which is where he started off as a young lawyer.

“While working at the large England-based law firm Freshfields, we were international counsel to Derech Eretz regarding the building of Route 6, in which Israel’s major banks were represented by Herzog Fox. This was my first real grownup experience with Israelis,” White told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the firm’s 50th anniversary.

“In 1978, after the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty, American money [from a broad range of sources] starts flowing into Israel. The firm was positioned as a bridge between those foreign investors and the Israeli community."

Gil White

“We get to the end of the deal and the managing partner, Meir Linzen, says to me ‘Let’s meet.’ I sort of realized he wanted to offer me a job. I had no idea why. My father said ‘they have to pay you in dollars.’” The two met on a Sunday evening at a hotel by Heathrow Airport.

“I spoke Hebrew at home, but did not have great Hebrew, and then he made me an offer. The magic word was it was in dollars. I focused on ‘dollars’ and didn’t hear the number,” said White with a mix of a wide self-deprecating smile and some lasting embarrassment (even decades later). White asked him to repeat the number.

 Gil White, managing partner at Herzog Fox and Neeman. (credit: IDAN GROSS) Gil White, managing partner at Herzog Fox and Neeman. (credit: IDAN GROSS)

Linzen “repeated the number. But another person at the meeting was chain smoking and I was a young lawyer and I still didn’t hear the number! What the hell do I do? If I ask a third time, he will think he is dealing with an imbecile.”

White said he “sent an email which said ‘thanks very much, please send me a contract.’”

The firm was founded by Yaakov Neeman, multiple times a minister, Michael Fox, a Brit who made aliyah after the Six Day War, and Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president.

“In 1978, after the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty, American money [from a broad range of sources] starts flowing into Israel. The firm was positioned as a bridge between those foreign investors and the Israeli community,” he said.

In The 1990s, Herzog Fox helped pave the way for the first deal with Microsoft. White joined in 2000 when a third of the firm’s revenue was domestic, while two-thirds had an international angle, mostly foreigners investing in Israel. Fast-forward 22 years and more than half of the two-thirds of international business comes from Israelis investing overseas, said White.

“There is an amazing amount of outbound work,” clarifying that his lawyers are not practicing foreign law as much as they are “making sure things are not lost in translation” for their clients who are doing business in many countries.

Herzog Fox is also a bridge for many new immigrants.

He said the synergy and connections between Jews who move to Israel and between Israel and the broader world is the story of the firm’s history and led to the firm “getting the best of the best of Israeli society and being connected to the wider world.”

Asked to give advice to new lawyers, he said, “I still am an old-fashioned Zionist. We do work with Nefesh B’Nefesh. They reach out pretty regularly and I spend [a decent amount of time] on Zoom [with potential olim.] I had one recently with someone from Australia, one from the US and one from London. Even with people who will not come to Herzog.”

Next, he said, “This country is very different to what it was 20 years ago. It is really an amazing place to practice law today.”

Herzog has top global clients, top lawyers from the leading law firms in New York, London and Europe. “The nature of the deals and sophistication of the legal system is on a par with the rest of the world,” said White.

Lawyers welcome

LAWYERS CONSIDERING aliyah should jump sooner rather than later because every year of additional foreign experience they have makes aliyah less likely, in White’s experience.

He added that he made the adjustment to Israel easier for junior lawyers, raising the second year salary from NIS 15,000 to NIS 19,000 per month in January 2022. He recognizes this is still a good bit lower than overseas law firms offer and hopes to raise the numbers further in the future.

One place where the firm is capitalizing a lot is with Abraham Accords countries.

“We have been active in the UAE even prior to the Abraham Accords. There were active relations in the UAE for over a decade. Israeli technology is something of interest to the UAE – historically through offshore structures,” he said.

“The Abraham Accords allowed relations to become more straightforward and direct. We are working closely with certain emirates to relocate Israeli technology businesses offshore to the UAE. We have really seen an explosion of work.”

He flagged Herzog Fox’s legal advice to Abu Dhabi government’s Mubadala Petroleum on the Israeli law aspects of their purchase of Dekel’s holdings in the Tamar gas field and related financing. More specifically, the firm helped guide Mubadala through Israel’s regulatory framework.

He added that the atmosphere around business with the UAE is now more level-headed and thoughtful, as opposed to the early days of normalization when some businesspersons thought that “money grows on trees” in the UAE.

Now “people are taking the time to understand each other,” and work out business deals which make sense, noting he was in Dubai in late September and still felt very welcome.

The firm is seeing more work with both Morocco and Bahrain. In addition, he said there has been a realignment of other countries. For example, he said there is a new openness from Egypt to a wider range of “business arrangements that we haven’t seen before.”

Frequent cyber attacks

IN THE cyber and privacy technology arenas, he noted that “hospitals, medical insurance agencies and Internet clients are constantly under an increasing number of attacks almost daily.”

There is, “a huge amount of noise around cyber. There are a huge number of tools,” to defend against the onslaught of attacks.

Companies from around the world are coming to Israel “looking to see cyber solutions and asking: ‘can you help us?’ There are so many technologies and many are very similar.”

For these foreigners, “finding their way through that maze and puzzle is very difficult,” in which his firm assists.

At the same time, new technologies have highlighted threats to privacy, leading many to call for much tougher regulation.

He responded, “Attempting to over-regulate in a small country is not helpful. There are accepted norms in other jurisdictions. In the last few days, the government decided to abandon a whole bunch of specific Israeli regulations on food to allow imports, to adopt European or US ” rules for those imports.

He suggested that Israel do the same thing on privacy issues, utilizing restrictions, where relevant.

Further, he said, “Many companies are Internet-based and are impacted in multiple jurisdictions. They may be an Israeli company, but they may have databases or personal data from clients all over the globe. Our role is as a bridge into other jurisdictions.”

He described a client who might need 34 lawyers for different countries, but where Herzog Fox would “manage the ultimate solution” and deal with the range of lawyers on behalf of the client.

Next, he was questioned about Shas head Arye Deri’s recent statement that if the High Court of Justice declares him ineligible to be a minister due to his two convictions, he will engineer a Knesset override of that ruling.

Without wanting to get into specific cases, White said, “The foundations of democracy are the rule of law. While the rule of law may not always be perfect and while the legislature can change the way the rule of law functions, there are basic tenets which are important to uphold in a democracy.”

“Israel’s legal regime is respected the world over. Foreign companies doing business in Israel are confident that if they ever find themselves in a dispute, Israeli courts will show no bias in disputes with foreigners because we have an excellent judiciary,” he said.

He warned, “I would caution people against inflammatory statements which undermine the rule of law because that undermines democracy.”